Erin Brockovich wasn’t there. But a New York law firm for which the famous environmental activist has appeared in commercials made sure to attend the meeting.
That was the sad takeaway from Le Roy as citizens gathered at the American Legion post last week.
Residents, rightly, want answers to the many questions that have arisen this year after a wave of tics and other symptoms that afflicted a group of young women brought national attention to their community and brought a long-ago train wreck back to light.
What they got was a subtle reminder that money drives everything.
Why else would a representative from a personal injury law firm specializing in the kind of lawsuits that bring tantalizingly large verdicts attend the community meeting? The firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, is the same one for which Brockovich appears in commercials online.
It’s hardly a coincidence.
Brockovich last winter was on the front lines of national TV coverage of the Le Roy illness, suggesting to HLN’s Dr. Drew Pinsky and to USA Today that chemicals spilled when a train derailed in 1970 could be tied to the sudden illness.
They were serious questions and a scary scenario even for Dr. Drew.
“I hope we’re not adding to a panic in a community that is already upset,” he said during an interview with Brockovich in January. “I’m feeling a little panicky just reporting this, and I don’t live under a trichloroethylene plume.”
If you’re a parent of a child in the area, panic is exactly what you’ll feel.
Raising questions about whether hazardous chemicals were properly addressed and what health effects could linger is one thing. It has taken far too long for a proper cleanup, and pressure from the community is one of the best ways to ensure progress is made.
But speculatively linking the spill to the illness the teenagers were experiencing based on nothing more than a hunch did little more than feed the frenzy that swirled around Le Roy.
The problem was Brockovich seemed to all but ignore the diagnosis of conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness from doctors at the Dent Neurological Institute in Buffalo where many of the teens have been treated.
That’s still a concern for Dr. Laszlo L. Mechtler, medical director of the institute’s Neuro-Oncology Department.
That Brockovich’s consultant brought a personal injury firm to Le Roy last week did not escape his notice.
“We feel strongly at the Dent that our diagnosis is appropriate and has nothing to do with environmental factors,” said Mechtler, noting that the National Institutes of Health and other centers have agreed. “They, as non-physicians, it’s really extremely surprising that they would do this. I don’t care what they do with the environmental and chemical toxins. It’s how they’re tying this into these young ladies, which is totally, totally sensationalism and exploitation of the issue for secondary gain.”
Consultants for the high school have found no environmental causes for the illness. Brockovich’s representative last week concurred with that finding.
Meanwhile, in the months since the news trucks moved on, healing began.
The saddest part is there are 18 people at the center of all this. Behind all the media attention, all the interviews, all the hype, are young people just trying to get their lives back.
It’s time to let that happen.
What they got was a subtle reminder that money drives everything